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L.A. Ballet's 'Nutcracker': pretty but uninspired

Costumes are festive, but many of the dancers are just going through the motions as the new season launches.

December 01, 2007|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

Clara, the heroine of "The Nutcracker," is young with decidedly big dreams. So too is Los Angeles Ballet, the company launched last year by the husband and wife team of Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, who fearlessly plunged into local dance waters with their original version of the holiday classic. But kicking off a second season Thursday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale (six additional performances with cast changes are on tap in two other venues), the company -- and this production -- seemed to have lost some of their initial luster.

Gone was the orchestra that fueled the earlier performances, when live musicians provided a warm pulse for the dancers. With the glorious Tchaikovsky score on tape, and a not-nearly-full 1,400-seat house, the dancers, with several exceptions, appeared to offer only pretty smiles while going through the motions of lively, if occasionally too busy, choreography.

True star power was not to be found with guest artist Rainer Krenstetter of the Berlin Staatsballett, who as the Prince had little to do except partner Corina Gill (looking surprisingly uninspired after triumphs last year in an array of roles).

Instead it emanated from Lilit Hogtanian. The 15-year-old prodigy assaying Clara soared in effortless leaps and turns with the grace, authority, presence and acting ability of a prima ballerina.

Although this "Nutcracker" is set in California, circa 1912, Catherine Kanner's colorfully painted backdrops could be Anytown USA, but Mikael Melbye's costumes, designed for the Royal Danish Ballet, lent the proceedings some festive flair.

As the curtain opened on a bustling party scene, Neary, a former New York City Ballet dancer, performed Mrs. Staulbaum's elegant hostess duties, with character specialist Adam Luders as her reliable spouse. Still, it was only with the appearance of a fur-festooned Drosselmeyer (an able Bjorn Hansen), that the party rocked.

Unleashing magical powers, this uncle with Tim Burton-like electric hair and ghoulish makeup held the children in thrall as he brought toys to life and transported Clara and her Nutcracker (Erik Thordal-Christensen) to the lands of snow and sweets.

The war between the mice and the soldiers was a messy, crowded affair, but what battle isn't?

The overflowing stage also featured an explosive Sergey Kheylik, whose ferocious jumps and armless cartwheels were needlessly surrounded by a trio of dancing kiddies. The corps gave their all as Snowballs and in the "Waltz of the Flowers," though rarely in perfect unison, but they were upstaged by Clara's vibrant solos in the latter.

Aubrey Morgan's Arabian, partnered by Darius Crenshaw, hit the right slithery notes, her undulating torso throwing off heat, while Melissa Barak and Peter Snow displayed robotic finesse as Harlequin and Columbine.

In all, Los Angeles Ballet's efforts are again to be applauded, but for this "Nutcracker" to supply holiday cheer above and beyond that of any regional company, there needs to be a little more conjuring and a lot less thinking inside the box, however prettily wrapped.


Los Angeles Ballet

Where: Royce Hall, UCLA

When: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22; 2 p.m. Dec. 23

Price: $15 to $95

Contact: (310) 998-7782


Where: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach

When: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 29; 2 p.m. Dec. 30

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